We all have networks. They consist of everyone we know: our friends, family, and business associates. Our doctors, dentists, dry cleaners, mechanics, and CPAs are also members of our networks.
Why Build Your Network?
Networks are an invaluable source of referrals. Referral expert Joanne Black, the author of No More Cold Calling (Business Plus, 2007) notes that when you get clients or customers through referrals:
- You are pre-sold. They have heard about and want to work with you.
- You have credibility.
- You have trust.
- A definite need for your goods or services exists and the contact wants to meet with you.
- The sales cycle is shortened dramatically.
- You can ace out the competition.
- You get more business. Most of the time, you land more that 50% of the contacts you meet and it frequently exceeds 70%.
Now that you know why forming networks are important, here are three steps to help you form influential networks.
Step 1: Identify your existing network
- List everyone you know who could help you.
- Next to each name write:
- What they do.
- How could they could help you.
- Underline the names of those who you think could be the most helpful in expanding your horizons. Make them your A Group: the people who could help you the most and with whom you want to solidify your relationship.
Step 2: Networks are reciprocal arrangements
Build networks with partners who will refer business to you and will always do an excellent job for those you recommend.
Align yourself with people who:
- Are like you and have similar values and goals. Having similar values is essential because it gives you a better chance of being on the same page, speaking the same language, and working well together. When you have the same values, it helps build trust. If your values differ, conflicts will invariably arise. People who understand my values know what is important to me. The more I insist on working with people who share my values, the easier, more successful, and more enjoyable my life has become. Identify your values so that you can find them in others.
- Can fill in your gaps. We all have shortcomings, areas in which we are not accomplished. We also can’t do everything, although we often try. Compensate for your weaknesses by aligning yourself with people who excel in areas in which you fall short. For example, I am a strong promoter, that’s my personality. I need to work with people who are analysts who keep me focused on business and the bottom line. However, I also want those people to share my values and understand what’s important to me.
- Are on a higher level. Notch it up; work with people who are smarter, more experienced, more accomplished, and better connected than you; people from whom you can learn. “You become who you associate with the most,” Debbie Allen counsels. “So if you want to get to a higher level, be with people who are on a higher level. Most people don’t. They stay at the same level and never move past their old friends and associates.”
“Connecting with people who have more influence and success raises your skill level and creates new opportunities for you,” Kym Yancey Founder and President of eWomenNetwork discloses. “You can only raise your game if you play with superior players. You need to place that stress on yourself to get better. It’s critical for people to search for ways to build relationships and associate with those who have more, who do more, and have accomplished more.”
Step 3: Find the best coaches, teachers, instructors, and mentors.
At first, working with experts may be awkward; you may feel that you are over your head. Usually, that’s just growing pains. Before long, you will get up to speed. As you work with more talented individuals, educate yourself by listening, reading, and taking courses so you can better absorb what they give. Be patient and willing to work your way up step-by-step; understand that you are involved in a process. Don’t try to jump from the bottom straight to the top because you could have a long, hard fall. “Stay away from ‘dream-stealer,” Allen urges.
“They are people who are negative and will hold you back. If you do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, something that they wouldn’t do, they will discourage and try to stop you.” “Take inventory of the people you hang around with,” Sandra Yancey suggests. “Unless you look, you can’t imagine how much time you may be giving to people who are not serving you well. They are not supporting your efforts and they are draining you of your dreams. Quietly fire those dream drainers because you only have so much time. Don’t let those who are stuck in misery lure you onto their team.”
Concentrate on working with referral partners who can consistently send you quality business. Make sure you love what you do and spend your time with the best people in your field.
When you start building networks, start close to home; build a strong home base. Review your business records and identify those with whom you could form strategic alliances. Ask your clients, customers, vendors, and service providers for referrals. They know how well you perform.